Surviving the pandemic, preserving democracy: Lanka’s twin challenge

Thursday, 17 June 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


This article is based on the remarks made by National Movement for Social Justice Chairman Karu Jayasuriya at a press conference yesterday

National Movement for Social Justice Chairman Karu Jayasuriya


Pandemic and the people

It is more comforting to die of coronavirus than to live in a dictatorship created by the 20th Amendment. 

Our country is currently facing a very serious crisis as the deadly corona epidemic has engulfed the entire country. But the political leaders of this country today do not seem to look upon it as an epidemic that must be suppressed immediately, but as a means to preserve and maintain their power. 

They do not appear to see COVID-19 as an epidemic that should be eradicated, but as an opportunity to prevent people from taking to the streets due to the complete breakdown of their livelihoods caused by the fear of disease. Given the failure of all attempts to control it, it is not surprising that such doubts have arisen among the public.

We are deeply saddened about this situation. Therefore, the Government must now correctly identify this danger. If we as a country are to face it successfully, we must provide proper protection to the lives of the entire people of the country. 

To this end, it is essential to implement a comprehensive national program with the agreement of all parties. Otherwise, those responsible will inevitably have to suffer the consequences of sacrificing thousands of lives in this country.

Soaring cost of living

People are being pushed to the abyss. The current crisis in the country has created serious consequences not only for the lives of the people but also for the future security of the country. Not only the health of the people but also the economy of the country is collapsing.

The cost of living has skyrocketed. The rule of law and the protection it provides to the people are being systematically undermined. Dictatorship is reigniting, dismantling democratic governance structures. 

Today the farmer in this country has no fertiliser to cultivate. Children are not able to get a proper education. The fisherman is helpless. Most Government agencies do not function properly. Everything is decided and directed from one place. Such a situation has arisen due to the power gained by the 20th Amendment.

At the same time, our foreign policy is alienating Sri Lanka from the civilised world. This situation has sounded the death knell for the economy of this country. This is shown by the decision taken by the EU Parliament a few days ago. Given the current situation in our country, we all need to understand the consequences of the deprivation of the GSP + tax relief.

As the Intellectual Council of the National Movement for Social Justice estimates, it is likely to have serious repercussions for the country.

GSP+ concessions at stake

The GSP+ relief granted by the European Union Tax is making a significant contribution to the economy of our country. Sri Lanka's export earnings to the EU are estimated at Euros 2.8 billion. About 30% of our exports go to European countries and around 60% of the country's apparel products are sold to Europe. It is considered to be the second largest market for Sri Lankan products. 

At present, Sri Lanka exports apparel, rubber products, vegetables, tea, seafood and pet fish, tires and tubes, porcelain products, sporting goods, diamonds, gem and jewellery, handloom textiles, electronics and more to the EU. Manufacturers of products in our country, including products, use the GSP concession. Accordingly, it is possible to understand the benefits received under the concession. 

We first received this relief after the tsunami disaster. That was in 2005. However, we lost it in 2010 due to some unpleasant incidents that took place in this country during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and especially the weakening of democracy in the country by the 18th Amendment. 

However, with the Government that came to power in 2015 taking steps to re-establish democracy in this country, Sri Lanka regained that concession in 2017.

Democracy at stake

We are reminded of the efforts made by the then Prime Minister as well as a number of other Ministers to obtain the concession on behalf of Sri Lanka. Due to the cordial relations that the Parliament of Sri Lanka has established with the Parliaments of European countries, we too have intervened on a number of occasions. We also discussed this with a number of diplomats. Today we are at the risk of losing the victory we achieved collectively.

There is one thing that the people of Sri Lanka should not forget. That is to say, some countries in South Asia have gained privileges we lost due to the arbitrariness and short-sightedness of our rulers. Bangladesh is a case in point. That is how countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines have come a long way in the garment industry. Today a large number of our employees and managers are employed in Bangladesh.

The most important thing that the intelligent people of our country should consider in this regard is the basis on which the EU Parliament decided to reconsider the GSP + tax concession being granted to Sri Lanka; 628 votes have been cast in favour of the resolution, only 15 votes were cast in favour of Sri Lanka. It also appears that there are about 42 persons who did not vote. Why did that happen?

As we all know, none of these countries are against the people of Sri Lanka. But they are not loyal to the arbitrary, short-sighted and hostile actions of the rulers of our country. That is the reality. They are protesting today against the weakened democracy in this country.

The fundamental rights of the people, including human rights, are being blatantly violated in broad daylight. They do so rationally. They themselves have pointed out a number of reasons for this. That is because MPs, legal officers and honest public servants, civil society activists, lawyers, writers and poets have been arrested and detained without proper legal action and access to justice. This is because there is a growing tendency in the country to kill suspects in police custody. Because prisoners in Government custody are shot and killed.

The appointment of some active Government allies to the commissions has also come to the attention of the European Union. Among the factors that led to this decision were the plight of SSP Shani Abeysekera and Hejaaz Hizbullah. 

It is not a secret to the people that Shani Abeysekera, who is considered to be one of the most honest and talented police officers in the country, was taken out of prison when he contracted COVID and taken to the Kandakadu camp in Polonnaruwa and how he was transferred from the National Hospital to the Police Hospital on the same day he underwent serious heart surgery. He was in custody for more than a year. At least there does not appear to be any specific charge against him in court. Certainly these are inhumane evil deeds. These can be considered as acts of revenge. These matters should also be brought to the attention of the new Attorney General.

It also appears that there are several Police officers in the crime branch who support these and protect their privileges. What they are doing today is an insult to the Sri Lanka Police Department and the country. Therefore, we hope that the IGP will now work to ensure the dignity of the Police and the security of his honest officers. This is the aspiration of the people of this country as well.

Attorney General's Department

We are also deeply saddened by the tragic fate of Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige of the Attorney General's Department of Sri Lanka. He can be considered as a brilliant legal officer who performed the duties assigned to him by his department in an honest and proper manner. Today he has become an invalid due to the shock caused by baseless accusations levelled against him by the chairman of the so-called Commission on Political Revenge. Today we are waiting to see if at least the new Attorney General will deliver the justice he deserves. Similarly, today the people of this country are not allowed to express their views freely. Censorship of social media is nothing more than an attempt to confine public opinion.

The arrest of the President of the Information Technology Society of Sri Lanka is just one example. In addition, we are informed that a group dressed in civilian clothes had come to the house and threatened his mother. Such things were heard in the days of terrifying rulers like Hitler. We have heard that the Gestapo, a brutal murderous group under Hitler, did such things. However, the Court has refused to remand him in favour of justice. We pay our respects to the Judiciary in this regard. It seems that even the European Parliament does not tolerate such practices.

Contd; on page 09

The Parliament of Sri Lanka has also raised its voice on the situation faced by the people of our country. Moreover, on the whole, some have ridiculed the law of this land today. There is not one law in force in this country. It is not even equally implemented to those in the internal circle of Government. 

The law put in force against the Mayor of Moratuwa is not put in force against the person who destroyed the Buwaneka Rajya Sabha pavilion in Kurunegala. We saw a report that a group of Army officers had entered the Anuradhapura Sathosa store and had stolen liquor from it. If so, where is the law in this country? They have also insulted the President, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of this country. Should we as a country continue to turn a blind eye to such incidents?

We all need to think deeply about that. We make these points because of our desire for law abiding, just and respectful people. We do not want to offend or embarrass anyone. But we must leave a good country for the future generation of this country. Therefore, we hope that the authorities of this country will pay careful attention to these matters.

We now need to understand that the entire country is in this state of disarray against the backdrop of the 20th Amendment. I feel that it is more comforting to die of corona than to live in a dictatorship created by the 20th Amendment that is destroying the country in this way. But our only hope is that the people of this country will not suffer that fate.